Full confession: I don’t read many cop or private dick mysteries. Not that I think such storytelling isn’t worthy. Indeed, the plethora of authors who pursue this genre is notable. The readership of this genre is immense. My problem—if it is a problem?—is that I’ve been there, done that.
My father was a cop; quintessentially so. From walking a beat in Denver’s tenderloin, to, as a detective, investigating vice, narcotics, homicides, burglaries, intelligence—my father did it all, eventually becoming chief of the Denver Police Department. I lived under the same roof with that cop for almost nineteen years. I heard all the stories, shared the frustrations, witnessed the effects the hard knocks of such a life inflicts on a man. So, yes, I know the reality of a cop’s life.
That said, now comes Neil S. Plakcy’s “Mahu Men – Mysterious & Erotic Stories.”
This is a collection of fifteen shorts that takes us into the life of Kimo Kanapa`aka, the first out homicide detective serving with Honolulu, Hawai`i’s police department. (The ` is intended to be a backwards apostrophe, or, as Plakcy explains in his excellent introduction, it is called a “…okina…read as a glottal stop (a pause between two vowels). The introduction also provides that the word Mahu, is “…a derogatory term for gay in Hawaiian.” Plakcy began writing about Kimo in 1992. After a series of shorts and several novels embracing Kimo, it’s evident that Kimo has become for Plakcy a writer’s labor bejeweled with passion, intense interest, perhaps obsession.
This collection draws us into the paradisial nature of Oahu (Kimo begins pretty much every day surfing), as well as the underbelly of the City and County of Hawai`i, where he deals with death, violent death. As with any homicide, the victims Kimo sees can only give silent witness that someone else was responsible for their state. Kimo’s task: Connect the dots that will eventually lead to identifying the responsible party.
Peppered throughout the collection are delightful vivid insights into Kimo’s libido; yes, erotica that Plakcy delivers masterfully. We are also shown snippets of Kimo’s early struggles in acknowledging and eventually accepting his sexuality. And, believe me, Kimo not only accepts his sexuality, he revels in it. Kimo is a horny little devil! I found, though, I was never really able to hold a vision, a picture in my mind of what Kimo actually looks like. For me, as a reader, it’s important to have the image of the protagonist solidly established. We know that he is “…part Hawaiian, part Japanese, and part haole [white]…” We know that he has a slim waist, dark complexion, dark eyes, thirty-something. For me, that just wasn’t enough to form a picture. This in no way detracts from the storytelling. It is important to note, for readers of this genre, that Plakcy is obviously conversant with the finer points of forensics. Suffice it to say, his knowledge in this area is studied, something that adds an authenticity to his work.
A few highlights.
The first story, “I Know What You Did,” immediately took me back to Jack Webb’s character, Sergeant Joe Friday, in the Dragnet T.V. series of the ‘50s. The narrative is to the point, no nonsense, just the facts, ma’am. Plakcy uses this narrative style throughout the collection when relating the necessary details of whatever case Kimo happens to be handling. I don’t even know if Plakcy is old enough to be familiar with the Dragnet series. But for me, I found this stylistic device conveyed a certain authenticity to Kimo’s cop side. On the other hand, Plakcy exposes Kimo’s gay side with a free flow of sensuous, naughty, and delightful back-and-forth between characters. Good stuff, here.
Each of the stories in the collection provides a gay theme. In most cases, the murderers, the murdered are gay. A couple stories, “Super-Size,” and “Island Ball,” provide no murderers or murdered at all, albeit still gay themed. “Super-Size,” reveals another side of Kimo; a kind, sensitive side. In this story Kimo befriends, if only for an afternoon, an overweight college kid who has been abandoned by his coterie of gay buddies because, well, he’s fat and might get in the way of their carousing. Kimo beds the kid, not really out of pity but, perhaps more to build the kid’s self-esteem. A kind gesture, even though Kimo fulfills his own libidinous desires in the process.
“Island Ball,” is a purely sensuous story, a hot story that pairs Kimo with major league baseball player who is out himself. And, in being out, the hunky athlete is the object of death threats from unknowns, and harassment from other ballplayers. Kimo is assigned to protect the ballplayer and, well… One thing does lead to another.
“The Cane Fields,” is a touching story, involving a homicide related to a mentally disturbed young man believing he has been rejected by his lover. Kimo’s own struggles with his sexuality are not lost to him in this case, or ever. “I remembered, with a sudden twist of my stomach, when that first boyfriend told me that he wasn’t ready for the level of commitment I wanted, that he was breaking up with me. I struggled to put that memory aside and return to the moment, there in the cane field with Jason, mosquitoes buzzing around us.”
“The Second Detective,” explores the sordid topic of male rape. The rapes occur in the back alley outside a sports bar, and are perpetrated against heterosexual men. In the process of the investigation, Kimo takes on a new temporary partner—a fairly gorgeous young cop—who, at first, insists he isn’t gay but eventually reveals he’s struggling with his sexual identity, and terribly disturbed about a past same-sex encounter. Kimo gently eases the moment: “He looked confused. ‘You thought you did something bad, and you felt guilty abut it. That makes you a good person. Because you care about what you do. You have to recognize, though, that what you did wasn’t bad. There’s nothing wrong with two consenting adults having sex—no matter who they are…”
I suppose my favorite story of the collection is, “The Sun God and the Boy He Loved.” This story intrigues because of the allusion to the myth of Apollo and Hyacinthus, where the sun god, Apollo, unintentionally kills Hyacinthus, his beloved boy. The story revolves around the suspected homicide of a HIV positive young man hospitalized with pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, and his older partner who is also living with HIV. The surviving partner believes he killed his lover by passing on the virus to him. Forensics will show the death occurred by other means. This is also a story about family, and the pain that families can inflict on gay sons. And it is a story about the redemption of a man’s spirit brought about by the passion of a cop, Kimo, to see justice done.
Let me begin to end this by saying Plakcy’s storytelling is sublime. For me, he has that precious writer’s knack for touching the reader personally, as if he knows what the reader themselves know to be true in their own lives; the struggles with sexual identity, the hurts, the joys, the lovely sex, the yearn for commitment, the inevitable second-guessing when that commitment falls apart.
I can forgive Plakcy for the seeming ease with which Kimo is able to solve his cases. These are, after all, short stories. I can only suggest from my own history, from my own intimate knowledge of cops and their travails, that crimes, especially homicides, are not so easily solved. Investigations sometimes go on for years.
Plakcy’s storytelling is tight, flawlessly executed, eminently interesting and inspiring. And for readers of this genre, I suspect you will find Plakcy’s work will fully sate your craving as, hopefully, you crack open this fine book on the soft sands of one beach or another, a tropical breeze easing the sun’s touch, and—as you occasionally glance over the top of the book—the luscious glimpse of a hunky, hot, hung surfer who might, just might be a cop.
Reviewed by George Seaton